This is Living Stories, featuring voices from the collections of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. I'm Louis Mazé.
At one time, the approach of cold weather signaled for many rural Americans in the South the time to begin planning for the annual hog-killing. It wasn't pretty but provided food for the coming winter months.
Louise Murphy, who grew up in Falls County in the twenties and thirties, describes some of the preparations involved in a hog-killing:
"We would have to get the old pot full of hot water and get us a barrel and get us a place to hang this hog. We had to have a cold day to get it so we could get our meat cold."
Thomas Wayne Harvey recalls what his father did before killing a hog in October of '44 in Waco:
"He had to dig a pit. And what he did, he went and got a fifty-five gallon drum and he dug a pit and he put the drum in there at a forty-five degree angle. And at the bottom end of the barrel, he built a fire pit that would heat that drum, and he'd fill it full of water until it was almost level of coming out at the top. After he built his pit, he built an A-frame directly above the barrel."
While many hogs were struck down with a single gunshot, Murphy, along with Estelle Pederson, explains what her father did:
Murphy: "He would take the ax, the back of the ax, and hit the hog in the head. And this would idle the hog until he took the butcher knife and just nearly sliced his head off."
Pederson: "It's awful how it was."
Murphy: "And, in the meantime, he would get a little singletree that come off of the wagon. Singletree. First thing we had to do was hang that hog up by that singletree and let all the blood come out."
Harvey relates the next step in the process:
"And then they gut it. And after they gut it, then they put the hog in this boiling water head first. They'd pull the hog back out, and it was so hot you had to have gloves to touch the hog. But what they did, they'd take a piece of board with a sharp edge on it, and they'd scrape the hair off the hog. And that hog would turn to a real pretty pink, and they'd do that—if the hog was too big, then they'd turn it around and stick it in the barrel backwards, you know, until the hog was completely hairless."
There was an art to scraping a hog, as Murphy explains:
"We'd start scraping. I—anybody that could get around that hog had a knife, and you'd scrape all that hair off. And you don't cut the meat. You got to know how to do it or you get—you get a little spanking. You got to know not to cut the meat."
The hog was then ready to be disassembled, processed, and stored, with no part being wasted. Nowadays, pork items can be found year-round in grocery stores, thanks to refrigeration and freezing. But once upon a time pork was on the dinner table only during certain months of the year.
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